COVID-19: Iowa’s death toll passes 800; Rep. Finkenauer wants to know why testing has been cut in Dubuque

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Soldiers with the 294th Medical Company Area Support are at the Test Iowa site in Cedar Rapids on May 7, 2020. — National Guard

Iowa’s official COVID-19 death toll passed 800 on Wednesday, as the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 10 people had died from the virus. The newly reported deaths bring the total number of Iowans killed by COVID-19 to 808.

IDPH also reported another 374 Iowans tested positive for the virus during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, pushing the state’s total number of confirmed cases to 39,793.

Johnson County had 12 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed between 10 a.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. Wednesday, and Linn County had 29, according to IDPH.

The statewide positivity rate — the percentage of people tested who were confirmed as having COVID-19 — for the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Wednesday was 8 percent. In Linn County, the positivity rate was 7.2 percent. Johnson County had a positivity rate of 6.5 percent.

On Tuesday, Rep. Abby Finkenauer sent a letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds asking for information about an order issued by the governor’s office on Monday instructing the Test Iowa site in Dubuque to reduce the number of tests it is conducting. The site, which had collected an average of 400 to 550 samples a day, is now limited to testing 100 people per day, and is only open between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on four weekdays. The order also prohibits the Visiting Nurse Association from assisting people without internet access from registering for a test at the site. (The assessment needed to schedule a Test Iowa test can only be done online.)

“I am concerned that decreasing testing in places like Dubuque County could prevent progress toward controlling the virus and getting our economy back on track,” wrote Finkenauer, who represent Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Dubuque and Linn counties. “Iowans expect data-driven decisions from their leaders, and that means keeping enough testing where COVID-19 cases are high and where there is demand for testing.”

Like Johnson County, Dubuque County has experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases since mid-June. Approximately 60 percent of the county’s 1,239 cases of COVID-19 have been reported since June 22.

“The Test Iowa initiative was made possible with federal funding from the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136),” Finkenauer wrote. “As a Member of Congress, I have a responsibility to ensure taxpayer money is being spent wisely and to fight for additional resources for Iowa if they are needed.”

Finkenauer asked the governor to provide the following information.

1. Please detail any issues or factors that led or contributed to your decision to limit Test Iowa operations in Dubuque, including any communications or issues with the private companies that the State has contracted with to operate Test Iowa.

2. What impact will decreasing Test Iowa operations have on the total number of tests completed in Dubuque County each day? While Test Iowa capacity remains limited in Dubuque, are you pursuing other options to bring testing to the area?

3. Is additional funding needed maintain Test Iowa operations in Dubuque? Of the federal funding awarded for testing, how much has been spent on Test Iowa thus far and how funding much remains available to the state?

4. Have testing backlogs or other operational problems further impacted testing capacity or wait times in Iowa?

5. Why will the Dubuque Visiting Nurses Association no longer be able to assist residents with assessments over the phone? As long as Iowans are required to complete an online assessment prior to being tested, what is your plan to help those with limited connectivity and no family or friends in the position to assist them?

Gov. Reynolds has not responded to the letter yet, and the governor’s office has not provided any further explanation as to why it has limited testing in Dubuque.

On Monday, a Reynolds’ spokesperson sent the same short statement to all reporters asking about the order: “We requested this temporary change to ensure their process is in line with others across the state of Iowa. We want to maintain consistency and high quality performance across all Test Iowa sites.”

IDPH reported another 22 residents of Dubuque County had tested positive as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday. The county’s positivity rate was 8 percent.

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